World’s first waterproof paper

In a world first, a group of Brisbane biotechnologists have invented a way to utilise the cellulose in unused sugarcane plant material to produce waterproof papers and industrial cardboards.

Principal researchers and biotechnologists, Dr Les Edye and Dr Bill Doherty, made their discovery while working for the Cooperative Research Centre for Sugarcane Innovation through Biotechnology (CRC SIIB).

The CRC SIIB, based at the University of Queensland, St. Lucia, was formed in 2003 to add new value to Australia’s sugarcane industry — and adding new value to sugarcane is exactly what this invention could potentially do,

The scientists have been working for the CRC SIIB in the area of bio-refining — an offshoot of biotechnology, which helps identify down-stream product opportunities, or new manufacturing potential, based on knowledge available to scientists working on sugarcane.

According to Dr Doherty, the untapped/’green’ potential of sugarcane’s biomass is enormous and extremely exciting for the Aussie sugarcane industry.

“Our work is revealing how we may actually use more of the entire sugarcane plant, millions of tonnes of unused plant matter (or biomass), for future manufacturing and energy production of which waterproof cardboard might provide just one very promising commercial option,” Dr Doherty said.

“The CRC process requires the extraction of cellulose (taken from the cane biomass) and then combined with new fermentation technology to make a type of lignin that would form the basis of a waterproof coating for a variety of papers.

“Our process would potentially allow sugarcane growers and mills to team up with paper manufacturers to produce an internationally sought-after waterproof and biodegradable products — waterproof cardboard boxes and containers, waterproof paper bill-boards, even waterproof paper tarpaulins for emergency relief — all made from natural materials and all 100% recyclable and environmentally friendly.

“Across the globe, food and beverage manufacturers are dependent on paper based packaging and cardboard to store and transport their goods safely to the consumer. Today, the only available technology to manufacturers is cardboard coated with a petroleum-based wax which renders the packaging non-recyclable or petroleum based plastics. Fully recyclable, waterproof paper board could reduce billions of tonnes of landfill around the world.”

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